Calabrasella is a trick-taking game for three players. Playing much like a simplified form of Solo, Calabrasella features a lone player against their two opponents, trying to capture the most point-scoring cards in tricks. Because the solo player is at an inherent disadvantage to their two opponents, the game counteracts this by granting certain liberties to the soloist, namely the ability to take a high-ranking card from one of their opponents, and the opportunity to exchange up to four cards with those in the widow.
The name Calabrasella seems to indicate an origin in Calabria, the province on the peninsula that makes up the “toe” of Italy. In any case, by 1870 it had spread throughout Italy, to the extent that it was considered the national game.
Object of Calabrasella
The object of Calabrasella is to capture as many scoring cards in tricks as possible. The scoring cards are the aces, 2s, 3s, and face cards.
Calabrasella is played with a 40-card Italian deck. To create such a deck from a 52-card English deck, like a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, just remove all the 10s, 9s, and 8s. You’ll be left with aces through 7s, plus the face cards, in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to keep score with. The game is traditionally scored with hard scoring, so you’ll want some form of counters handy, like poker chips. If desired, each chip can represent an agreed-upon amount of real-world money.
Distribute the chips equally (or have players buy them). Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player. The four remaining cards are placed face down in the center of the table, forming the widow.
For the most part, the cards rank in their usual order in Calabrasella, with aces high. However, both the 2 and the 3 are elevated from their usual positions to become the highest-ranking cards, above the ace. The full card ranking is thus (high) 3, 2, A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).
Bidding and exchanging cards
Each hand begins with an extremely straightforward bidding round. The player to the left of the dealer has the option to pass or play. If they pass, the next player to the left (that to the dealer’s right) has the option, and then finally the dealer. Should all three players pass, the cards are collected, shuffled, and the next player to the left deals a new hand. When a player elects to play, the bidding ceases immediately, with that player becoming the declarer. The other two players become the defenders.
The declarer names the suit of any 3 that they do not hold (or, if they hold all four 3s, the suit of a 2 they do not hold). The player holding that card must pass it to the declarer, who exchanges it for any unwanted card in their hand. (This unwanted card is kept concealed from the third, uninvolved player.) If no player holds the card the declarer named (because it is in the widow), then they simply lose out.
The declarer then discards at least one but as many as four cards from their hand. They then turn the widow face up on the table. The declarer then selects the same number of cards as they discarded from the widow, taking them into their hand. The unused widow cards and the discards are then set aside, taking no further part in game play.
Play of the hand
The player to the declarer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card. When all three players have contributed to the trick, the person who played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. That player then leads to the next tricks. Cards won in tricks are stored in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them; the defenders share one common pile.
After all twelve tricks are played, the hand scores are tallied up, with the defenders’ scores being added together and the declarer’s scored separately. The player taking the last trick scores a three-point bonus. Each ace is worth three points, and each 3, 2, and face card is worth one point.
If the declarer scored higher than the defenders did, each defender pays the declarer the difference between the scores. If the declarer scored lower than the defenders, the declarer must pay each defender the difference. For example, if the declarer scored 19 points and the declarers 16, each defender would pay the declarer three chips. On the other hand, if the declarer scored only 11 points and the defenders 24 points, the declarer would pay 26 chips in all: 13 to each defender.
In the event that one side scores 35–0, the payouts are doubled—each payment made is 70 chips.
Big Two is a Chinese climbing game for two to four players. Although it plays much like Thirteen (tien len), it is unique among the climbing games in that it allows for the use of standard poker hands as valid combinations. For example, while most climbing games will let you play a five-card straight, only in Big Two could that straight be beaten by a flush or a full house!
Object of Big Two
The object of Big Two is to be the first player to get rid of all your cards. This is achieved by discarding cards as parts of valid combinations.
Anyone wanting to play a game of Big Two needs a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Of course, we’d absolutely love it if you chose a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards for your game. You should also have something handy to keep score with, like pencil and paper.
Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. Set aside any unused cards; they will have no effect on game play.
Big Two uses the card ranking order usually found in other climbing games of Asian origin: aces are high, and 2s are even higher than the ace. This gives a full ranking of (high) 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 (low).
Ties in rank (as when single cards or pairs are played against each other) are broken by suit. Suits rank in the following order: (high) spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds (low).
Play of the hand in Big Two revolves around different combinations of cards. The valid combinations that can be played fall into four categories, which have no rank or standing relative to each other. These four categories are:
- Single cards
- Trips (three of a kind)
- Five-card poker hands (as described below)
Within the category of five-card combinations, there are a number of valid combos based on poker hands, which do have ranks relative to each other. These combinations are more or less what you’d expect if you’re familiar with poker, with some caveats. From highest to lowest:
- 1. Royal flush
- A royal flush consists of A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. Ties are broken by the suit of the royal flush, thus the best five-card combination is the spade royal flush.
- 2. Straight flush
- Five cards of the same suit, in sequence (example: 4-5-6-7-8♠). In straight flushes, 2s rank below 3s, as they do in most climbing games, and aces can be either high or low, but not both, so 6-5-4-3-2 is fine, but 2-A-K-Q-J and 4-3-2-A-K are not. The highest-ranking card is used to determine the rank of the straight flush; if two straight flushes have the same top rank, then the tie is broken by the suit of the highest-ranked card.
- 3. Four of a kind
- Four of a kind consists of all four of a particular rank of card, plus one unmatched fifth card. (example: 5-5-5-5-J). Ties are broken by the rank of the cards (four 6s beats four 5s). Note that unlike in most other climbing games, four-of-a-kinds are not a valid combination by themselves, and must be played along with a fifth card.
- 4. Full house
- A full house consists of three of one rank of card and two of another (example: 7-7-7-3-3). Ties are broken by the rank of the three matching cards (Q-Q-Q-9-9 beats 10-10-10-K-K).
- 5. Flush
- A flush consists of five cards of the same suit, not in any particular order (example: 5-6-9-J-K♦). Unlike in poker, ties are broken by the suit of the flush. Only if two flushes are of the same suit is the rank of the highest card used in determining the which flush is higher.
- 6. Straight
- A straight consists of five cards of any suit in sequence (example: 4♦-5♣-6♣-7♠-8♥). If all cards are the same suit, it becomes a straight flush. The rules for what constitutes a valid straight and how to rank it are otherwise the same as those for a straight flush.
Note that lower poker hands than straights cannot be played as five-card combos—there is no provision for playing a three-of-a-kind with two extra cards, two pairs, etc. These must be played by themselves as trips, pairs, or single cards.
Play of the hand
Game play begins with the player holding the 3♦, the lowest-ranked card in the game. If nobody holds the 3♦, then play starts with the 3♣, and so on upward to whoever is determined to hold the lowest card that’s actually in play. This player plays face up to the table any combination they desire that contains the low card. The next player to their left must then play a higher combination of the same length. That is, they must play a higher single card if the first player led with a single card, a pair if the first player led with a pair, etc. If the player cannot or does not wish to play higher, they may also pass, with the option to play again on their next turn.
This continues, with each player playing progressively higher combinations, until all of a player’s opponents pass to their play. (In a four-player game, this means three consecutive passes, or two consecutive passes in a three-player game.) When this happens, the remaining player is free to play whatever combination they wish. The next player to their left must then beat this new combination, as before, and the game continues on in this fashion.
Players must keep their hands visible at all times, and if asked how many cards they hold, must respond truthfully. This is to allow players holding high cards in reserve to play them to stop an opponent they fear may be able to play their last cards.
Ending the hand
The hand ends whenever a player runs out of cards. At this point, the hand is scored. Each player counts the number of cards they have remaining. If they have nine or fewer, they score one point for each card left in their hand. If they have ten through twelve cards left, they score two points per card remaining. An unlucky player left with all thirteen cards—having never played a card the whole hand—scores 39 points, three points per card!
The deal rotates to the left and new hands are dealt. Game play continues until one player reaches a predetermined score (such as 100 points). Whichever player has the lowest score at that point is the winner.
Last One is a variant of Crazy Eights for two to six players. Like other Crazy Eights variants, Last One takes the base gameplay of its parent game and adds additional cards beyond 8s that have special effects. It also incorporates a scoring system, allowing the game to go on beyond a single hand. Last One dates back to at least the 1970s, having been reported then being played in Maine.
Object of Last One
The object of Last One is to be the last one remaining under a certain point threshold. This is achieved by discarding as many cards as possible from your hand.
To play Last One, you’ll need access to a standard 52-card deck of playing cards with two jokers. If you don’t, do yourself a favor and grab a set of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need something to keep score with, whether it be the time-honored pencil and paper or something more modern, like a scorekeeping app on a phone.
Shuffle and deal the cards out. The dealer may choose to deal any number of cards for the hand, from four to eight. The dealer may also deal a nine-card hand if there is unanimous agreement among the players. Place the stub in the center of the table, forming the stock. Turn the top card of the stock face up; this card, the upcard, will be the top card of the discard pile.
The player to the dealer’s left normally goes first, unless the first upcard has a special effect that would change this, as described below. As in Crazy Eights, they must play a card to the discard pile that matches the current upcard in either suit or rank. This card becomes the new upcard. If a player has no cards that they are able or willing to play to the discard pile, they draw one card from the stock and the turn passes to the next player.
When a player is reduced to having one card in their hand, they must call out “last one”. If they fail to do so by the time the next person plays, they draw two cards from the stock as a penalty.
When the stock is depleted, set aside the current upcard and shuffle the remainder of the discard pile, turning it face down to start a new stock.
Special card effects
Almost half of the cards in the deck have some special effect that happens when they are played. The only cards that do not are 5s–7s, 9s, 10s, queens, and kings.
The next player must draw two cards and their turn is skipped.
After playing a 3, a player may stack any additional card on top of it, essentially giving them a free play. This stacked card becomes the new upcard.
Playing a 4 starts a run of plays called a melee. The player who discarded the 4 is the aggressor and the next player in turn becomes the defender. If anyone holds the 5 of the same suit as the 4, they may play it. In so doing, they become the new aggressor and the previous aggressor becomes the defender. This continues, with anyone holding the 6 of the appropriate suit being able to play it and becoming the new aggressor, and so on. If a player does not play, the most recent defender draws a number of cards equal to the pip value of the last card played. Play then continues as normal, starting with the player in turn order after the defender.
An 8 may be played at any time. The player who plays it names any one of the four suits, with the next player required to play a card of that suit, or switch suits with another 8.
The next player in turn is skipped.
The turn of play reverses direction. If, before the ace was played, play was proceeding to the left, it now proceeds to the right, and vice-versa.
A joker can represent any natural card in the deck, as chosen by the person who plays it. The next player must continue with a card of the same rank or suit as the card named.
Ending the hand
The hand ends when a player runs out of cards. That player, as well as any other player who holds only one card, scores zero for the hand. All other players total up the values of the cards in their hand, with jokers worth 40 points, 8s worth 25, aces worth 15, face cards worth 10 each, and all other cards worth their pip value. The total arrived at is added to their score.
The deal then passes to the left. When players reach a predetermined score threshold (such as 250 points), they drop out of play, sitting out of further hands. Game play continues until only one player is left. That player wins the game.
Dou Dizhu (斗地主), which roughly translates into English as Fight the Landlord, is a Chinese climbing game for three players. In Dou Dizhu, one player takes on the role of “landlord”, fighting to be the first to run out of cards. The other two players team up to try to dispense with their cards before the landlord does!
Dou Dizhu is a fascinating example of a climbing game because of the great flexibility the game affords players in choosing combinations of cards. This allows players to form complex strategies in planning their next moves. Because of this, the game is said to be easy to learn but hard to master.
Object of Dou Dizhu
The object of Dou Dizhu is to be the first player to run out of cards. (If playing with a partner, your partner being the first out is just fine too.)
To play Dou Dizhu, you need a standard 52-card deck of playing cards, with two jokers that are different from each other somehow. Happily, Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards fit the bill wonderfully. One joker should be designated as the higher joker. (On Denexa cards, we recommend this to be the red joker, the one with the dragon.) You’ll also need some way of keeping score. A hard-score method, using counters like poker chips, works the best, but you can also keep score with pencil and paper or similar.
Shuffle the deck. Take the top card and flip it face-up, randomly inserting it somewhere into the middle of the deck. Each player in turn draws a card from the deck until each have seventeen cards in their hand. Note which player takes the face-up card. The remaining three cards become a widow and are left face-down in the center of the table.
As with many Asian climbing games, the cards rank in their usual order, with aces high, but with the 2 ranked even higher than that. The jokers rank even higher than the 2, with one joker (the red joker) outranking the other (the black joker). Thus, the full rank of cards is (high) ★, ★, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3 (low). Suits are not relevant to game play.
The player who drew the face-up card in the deck bids first in the auction. They can choose to bid one, two, or three, or pass. The next player to their left then bids, and must bid higher than the first player or pass. A player can make a bid after initially passing. Bidding continues until either there are two consecutive passes or someone bids three. Once a winner has been established, they become the landlord. The landlord takes the widow into their hand, giving them a 20-card hand.
Play of the hand in Dou Dizhu revolves around different combinations of cards. The valid combinations in Dou Dizhu are:
- Single card
- Trips (three of a kind)
- Straights (five or more cards in sequence, e.g. 3-4-5-6-7)
- Quads (four of a kind)—but see restriction below
- Consecutive pairs (three or more pairs in sequence, e.g. 3-3-4-4-5-5)
- Consecutive trips (two or more trips in sequence, e.g. 3-3-3-4-4-4)
There are some restrictions on when the high-ranking 2s and jokers can be used. They can appear as single cards, or in pairs or trips. They cannot be used in straights or consecutive pairs or trips.
In addition, extra cards called kickers may also be attached to trips and consecutive trips. A kicker can be either a single card or a pair. For example, 7-7-7-5 and 7-7-7-5-5 are both valid combinations. When attaching kickers to consecutive trips, there must be one kicker or kicker pair for each triplet, each of which must be a different rank. For instance, 3-3-3-4-4-4-9-J and 4-4-4-8-8-8-7-7-Q-Q are both valid, but 3-3-3-4-4-4-9-9 is not (as this is one pair kicker for two triplets, not one single card for each triplet). Both 2s and jokers can be used as kickers, but not both jokers at the same time.
Quads must always be played with kickers to be used as a regular play. This can take the form of two single cards (5-5-5-5-8-K) or two pairs (5-5-5-5-8-8-K-K). Quads played without kickers are a special combination called a bomb (described below in “Bombs and rockets”).
Play of the hand
The landlord plays first. They may play any combination of cards they wish. The next player to the left then must play a higher-ranking instance of the same combination. To be considered the same combination, the same number of cards must be played: straights must be of the same length, consecutive pairs must have the same number of pairs, the same number of kickers must be played, etc. Combinations are ranked by the highest card present, with any kickers disregarded. For example, 7-7-7-5 is higher than 4-4-4-A (because the ace is a kicker and is thus not counted toward the rank of the combination). If a player cannot or does not want to play higher, they may pass.
This continues, with play continuing around the table, each player playing higher and higher combinations. Players may jump back into game play, even after passing, on their next turn. After two consecutive players have passed, the remaining player is free to play whatever combination of cards they choose (i.e. they are not compelled to play the same type of combination as before). As before, play continues to to the left, with the next player following up on the most recently played combination with a higher one of the same type.
Bombs and rockets
There are two special combinations in the game. These are the bomb, four of a kind with no kickers, and the rocket, which is a pair of jokers. Bombs and rockets may be played at any time, regardless of the combination being played. A bomb can only be beaten by a higher-ranked bomb or a rocket, and a rocket is unbeatable.
Ending the hand
Game play continues until one player runs out of cards. If that player is the landlord, each of their opponents pays them the amount bid (one, two, or three chips). If the landlord did not go out, the landlord must pay each opponent the amount bid. The payout is doubled for each time a bomb or rocket was played over the course of the hand.